Extrapolating active layer thickness measurements across Arctic polygonal terrain using LiDAR and NDVI data sets


Landscape attributes that vary with microtopography, such as active layer thickness (ALT), are labor intensive and difficult to document effectively through in situ methods at kilometer spatial extents, thus rendering remotely sensed methods desirable. Spatially explicit estimates of ALT can provide critically needed data for parameterization, initialization, and evaluation of Arctic terrestrial models. In this work, we demonstrate a new approach using high-resolution remotely sensed data for estimating centimeter-scale ALT in a 5 km2 area of ice-wedge polygon terrain in Barrow, Alaska. We use a simple regression-based, machine learning data-fusion algorithm that uses topographic and spectral metrics derived from multisensor data (LiDAR and WorldView-2) to estimate ALT (2 m spatial resolution) across the study area. Comparison of the ALT estimates with ground-based measurements, indicates the accuracy (r2  = 0.76, RMSE ±4.4 cm) of the approach. While it is generally accepted that broad climatic variability associated with increasing air temperature will govern the regional averages of ALT, consistent with prior studies, our findings using high-resolution LiDAR and WorldView-2 data, show that smaller-scale variability in ALT is controlled by local eco-hydro-geomorphic factors. This work demonstrates a path forward for mapping ALT at high spatial resolution and across sufficiently large regions for improved understanding and predictions of coupled dynamics among permafrost, hydrology, and land-surface processes from readily available remote sensing data.

Journal Article
Year of Publication
Water Resources Research
Number of Pages
6339 - 6357
Date Published
Short Title
Water Resour. Res.
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